By Nicky Benn
“The trend now because of civic awareness is that the community are demanding a lot of accountability from the district. All of us are on our toes now. We are under pressure to deliver and if we don’t, we have to explain why. We are waking up. We have taken them (the community) for granted for a long time.”
-David Wamburu, acting chief administrative officer in the District of Mbale, Uganda
It is not often that government officials admit their weaknesses — that they have taken the very people that elected them, for granted. It is rare for an official to make public statements about accountability and the pressure to deliver on promises. It does not happen often in places like the United States and even less so, in places like Uganda. But that is what Citizen Voice in Action is trying to change.
Citizen Voice and Action (CVA) is World Vision’s local level approach to social accountability, empowering citizens to demand better services from their elected governments. It’s not a complex theory or community development concept, CVA is about people respecting people. It is about justice.
As Christians, we (should) know all about justice. The Bible is the handbook, a guide for how to treat each other with respect. “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). This is precisely why CVA is one of the cornerstones of WV’s development programming.
In the 10 years that CVA has been active, we have seen an extraordinary impact on the health and well-being of the communities we serve. Using simple tools developed through social audits such as community scorecards and monitoring standards, external research has demonstrated that when citizens are informed, governments are held accountable, and joint responsibility is taken — and great things happen.
Schools in Uganda have shown a 13 percent reduction in teacher absenteeism over the course of just one year because parents trained in CVA were able to identify that their children were not receiving the education they’re entitled to. Teachers understood their responsibilities, performance was monitored, and government came good on their promises, providing the housing, the salaries, and resources the teachers needed to do their jobs.
Having understood their rights to healthcare through the CVA process, citizens in Armenia supported local government officials to take central government to task, resulting in a change in the national health policy that has revolutionized the way in which doctors now serve the rural and marginalized areas.
CVA is local advocacy — “a process of supporting and enabling people to voice their views and concerns; to access information and services” — deeply rooted in our development program approach. CVA works with communities to create an empowered worldview that is based upon our understanding that humans are created in the image of a loving and redeeming God, and are therefore accountable for their actions, have the ability and responsibility to take action, and can shape their own future. This way of thinking results in a shift from dependence to empowerment, addresses personal and family life, stewardship of creation, relationships with the broader community and relationships with government.
Part of the success of CVA comes from this notion of the empowered individual, forming bonds with the community to see that justice is done (Micah 6:8). But we must remember that government officials are citizens too. In the villages and communities where we work, those officials also have children in school, also face critical health care decisions, and are confronted by the lack of services every day. Partnership, relationship, and transformation are at the heart of World Vision’s mission, and CVA embodies these principles not simply because it’s written in a project model, but because it’s the right thing to do. The just thing to do.
Nicky Benn joined World Vision in 2004, working in multiple capacities including managing USAID and UN Refugee Agency programs for World Vision Mozambique, working with World Vision U.S. in international program development, and since 2012, she has been at World Vision International with the Local Advocacy team as the Social Accountability Acquisition and Learning Advisor. Nicky has over 18 years of international development experience, working primarily in the Resilience and Livelihoods sector with a specialty focus on Environmental Management.